With all the upheaval and uncertainty happening within the music community—both here at home and around the world—isn’t it a wonderful thing to know that one of the hottest tickets in Portland remains an octogenarian singer-songwriter who performs tunes about werewolves, light-green fellows, and painting a mural of a fire-breathing dragon?
Michael Hurley is one of the true treasures of the Northwest, a bona fide freak-folk nonpareil whose work has been celebrated or covered by the likes of Cat Power and Jeff Tweedy. It’s the kind of acclaim that most other artists would squeeze every last drop out of, using it as a source of money or ego strokes. Instead, behold Hurley, playing a happy hour set for a few dozen scraggly folk at Laurelthirst as he does every last Friday.
It makes for a packed house at the roots music hub that borders on uncomfortable. But when I watched Hurley perform, the bonhomie in the room and the respect that everyone had for him and the venue made up for it all. As per the Laurelthirst’s request on its online calendar, attendees kept quiet during the set, listening with hushed reverence and the occasional frisson of joy.
If this had any effect on Hurley, he didn’t show it. He slipped onstage with drummer Rachel Blumberg without warning or announcement, kicking into “O My Stars” before his bassist and saxophonist had a chance to strap in. The set ambled on from there, with Hurley concentrating on the lines he was picking out on his hollow-body Gibson and his gruff vocals rather than anything happening in front of him.
Hurley only broke protocol to introduce the show’s “dance program”: a young tap dancer in multicolored tights who provided wobbly but delightful auxiliary percussion with their feet. By the end of the second song with the dancer, even Hurley realized how wonderfully silly it all was, laughing to the point of tears.